PART 1 In honor of both Star Wars Month of May and the 30th anniversary of Return of the Jedi. Looking back over the six Star Wars films to understand what defines them, both individually and as a franchise body, so much has been said concerning their broader tonal and aesthetic forms. In today’s media you don’t have to look hard to find a review, analysis or a 'making-of' featurette that highlights the films as works of vintage space opera or their roots in B-serials, Campbell’s monomyth theories or Kurosawa cinema, to name the most direct influences. Other more obscure and esoteric discussions dig deep into the interpretative aspects, addressing the likes of coded imagery and arcane references to human culture and psychology (mstrmnd, at your own risk). And then, of course, there are countless blogs and message board discussion that bitch and praise and nitpick and reminisce the films indefinitely, to no end. I myself have been passively studying these films for some time now, for as long as I’ve been learning about filmmaking in general. But it wasn’t until the past year or so that I began to notice a key ingredient inherent throughout George Lucas’ Star Wars saga, one that really cuts to the core of its storytelling mechanics: mini-narratives. In the alternate Blu-ray commentary track for Attack of the Clones, during the asteroid battle seen above between Obi-Wan and Jango Fett, Lucas casually refers to the action scene as one that advances through stages, with each stage telling a little story, and then goes on to say how individual action set pieces throughout the film likewise tell little stories, each with a beginning, middle and end. I found this curious. The traditional mindset approach is that action by itself is meaningless and that, ideally, it should remain an apparatus-effect to whatever the larger story-cause; the end result of some dramatic conflict or maybe an event that either puts the plot into motion or alters its trajectory. This is the traditional screenwriting sensibility, to which average films of even lesser quality adhere, only to then falter in discipline and lose sight, thus giving way to the typical criticisms of "too much explosions and not enough story" or "full of spectacle but thin on story" etc. It is a mindset that views action and story as being naturally opposed to one another, and that only through careful scripting can-and-should the former server the latter by flowing from it organically. Filmmakers are constantly challenged to make these ends meet. Yet Lucas’ mindset is different, fundamentally so. This might be something of an epiphany, at least for me. On screen, nearly all of Star Wars is built on such mini-narratives. Throughout the saga virtually every scene, set piece and even cutaway to a strip of motion or some quirky strand is, at the very least, in essence, telling a story. What’s surprising is that so many of these mini-narratives are not vital to the ongoing plot. This might seem counterintuitive to your typical film school, Syd Field 101 edict. Yet it’s important to understand that in cinema, particularly pure cinema, script does not equate story, but is merely a preliminary step. One cannot really discuss story without discussing what is happening visually, on screen. Not only does Lucas seem to understand this as a filmmaker but further embraces it to its most esoteric extreme. To tell a story is an act of expression, and when your medium is audiovisual, every order of business down to the smallest detail has the potential to express personality or a motif, or to further illustrate the world in which your larger story is set. The world of Star Wars is fabricated entirely from scratch. Total fantasy. And yet I dare anyone here to name an onscreen fictional universe that feels more immersive and fully realized; a universe so completely alive and seemingly limitless in its minutiae. I’m not just talking about the ever-increasing volume of panoramic vista shots and backgrounds and environments with photorealistic FX. Countless other fantasy and sci-fi films have done that. What separates the world of Star Wars from the rest is that it’s a world articulated well beyond the confines of the main plot. And it’s with mini-narratives that Lucas achieved this exploration. Epic, fate-altering events in A New Hope concerns a super battle station that threatens to wipeout the entire Rebel Alliance and mythic archetypes that must begin their journey by answering the hero’s call. Peculiar, then, that the film’s first act spends some 10 minutes following two droids on a bumbling excursion through the middle of desert planet nowhere. Sure, it’s tangential to the larger story in basic causality sense, but a whole scene of a bucket shaped robot poking along a rocky path and being tasered by hooded pygmies is played out methodically to the extent that, if tuning in at this very moment, one might assume they were watching a The Adventures of R2-D2 movie. Again, this is because Lucas renders every scene as a story unto itself. Perhaps a more potent example would be the TIE-fighter attack upon the Millennium Falcon post Death Star escape. For starters, this scene makes no sense. Why would General Tarkin order his fighters to attack the very ship that will lead the Empire to the hidden Rebel base? Why risk destroying your one lead? It could be argued that the attack was designed as a ruse. Fair enough, I suppose. But it doesn’t really matter either way. The surface intent for the sequence was to thrill audiences with some good ol’special effects spectacle; the inner purpose was to enchant them with an array of pure motion and sound, using a mini-action narrative to reduce cinema to a series of abstract forms. Star Wars is a far more abstract work of art than most people realize—far stranger than most are willing to consider. This avant-garde sensibility goes all the way back to THX 1138. In that film the title character undergoes three separate narratives where he must break free from three separate versions of a dystopian world: the emotional, cerebral and physical. American Graffiti is divided up into a series of vignettes where kids, cars and nighttime environs are made equal and studied coolly with a kind of observationalism. Likewise with Star Wars does Lucas use mini-narratives to study both the various life forms and technology of a galaxy-wide canvas. He is what I refer to as an artifact filmmaker, fashioning a work of cinema into something that feels as if it was found or projected from some other reality, on said reality’s terms. There’s an anthropological quality to it. To put a finer point on this quality is to understand how it expresses themes. Consider the giant space slug escape in The Empire Strikes Back. Removing this sequence altogether from the film would have no bearing on the main storyline. The narrative could simply be rewritten with the Falcon hiding inside an asteroid for duration, providing Han and Leia with the same romantic interlude, before taking off again. Nothing would change plot-wise. However, keeping the sequence in the film not only enriches an already illustrative world but also connects to something deeper in the story’s subtext, and Star Wars is nothing if not a bonanza of subtext. Empire is about caves. It’s about introspection, looking inward. The entire film responds to its predecessor as a metaphorical recess into the psyche. It is in caves that our heroes discover monsters, hidden truths, redefinitions. One mini-narrative sees Luke awoken inside an ice cave, hung upside down; from this capsized state we first witness his telekinetic Force power. Another cave he explores on Dagobah reveals manifestations of the Dark Side. Beneath the Bespin cloud city he slowly enters yet another low-lit hollow, this time technological, when searching out his enemy. All three instances lead to story developments of one kind or another. The asteroid cave-turned-belly-of-the-beast recalls Pinocchio and Gepetto’s escape from the whale, and goes on to symbolize the film’s anthem: everything is inverted, nothing is what it seems. Han might as well be saying, "This is no ordinary sequel!"